About Bloody Time: Raising Awareness for Period Poverty and Stigma in India.

Aditi Gupta
5 min readJul 28, 2021

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Last year, I pursued my master’s degree at the University of Glasgow. I was in awe of the beautiful 15th century Gothic buildings of the campus but, equally so, what truly got my deepest appreciation was their washrooms with free menstrual product vending machines. I instantly regretted packing my suitcase with more sanitary pads and less Maggi packets. Each washroom at the university was equipped with good quality pads and tampons that I did not need to spend a penny on menstrual products during my time there. Soon after graduating, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Period Product (Free Provision) Bill, making Scotland the first country in the world to make menstrual products free for all. This was an important move to tackle “period poverty”.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty is a global issue. It is the situation when a menstruator lacks access to safe and hygienic menstrual products due to their financial inability to purchase them. In India, where period is a hush-hush topic, period poverty statistics are obviously distressing. According to a 2015–2016 survey by National Family Health, only 121 million out of a total of 336 million menstruating women use sanitary pads. This is just 36%. With the pandemic, the situation has worsened where as low as 15% of menstruators had access to menstrual products.

Due to economic reasons, women in rural India cannot practice decent menstrual hygiene. They often resort to unsafe materials like pieces of rags or cloth, hay, sand, leaves, or ash. These unsanitary methods to manage menstrual flow can often lead to infections, diseases, and even cancer. The lack of seriousness about menstrual health and hygiene stems from this neglectful and stigmatized attitude.

The Period Stigma.

One would assume things to be easy for a menstruator in the Indian capital city of Delhi but it was never the case. Even when attending an all-girls school, teachers are unsupportive of young adolescent girls starting their periods. Girls are shamed for a stain on their skirts, even with just females around them! The chemist will always wrap your packet of sanitary pads in a black polythene bag so nobody can see its contents. Be it rural India or urban India, the topic of menstruation is often uncomfortable for almost all women at all times. The only source of a judgment-free conversation about period is with one’s girlfriends. The environment of ignorance is so large that about 71% of girls do not know about period before they get their first one.

A widely held attitude housed in the minds of most Indian minds is that women are “dirty” during their time of the month and their period blood is “unclean”. For instance, they are not to be allowed inside the kitchen. They cannot enter the temple and offer prayers. “Impure women” are not to touch a jar of pickle. The effect of such bizarre superstitions is an undignified period experience. These stigmatized beliefs that promote social and religious exclusion prevent women from leading an ordinary life during menstruation where they can attend school, go to work, cook for themselves and enter a place of worship. In fact, almost 23% of girls in India will quit school once they hit puberty.

When menstruation is considered a taboo subject, the hypocrisy of an average Indian mind is exposed at the gates of Assam’s famous Kamakhya Devi Temple. Kamakhya Devi is popularly known as the Bleeding Goddess. The shrine houses the womb and vagina of Kamakhya Devi. The insides of the temple doesn’t have any image or idol. The devotees worship a sculptured image of the yoni or the vagina, inside the cave. The yoni remains moist due to a natural spring. Once a year, the goddess even menstruates and the Brahmaputra river turns red. Here, menstruation is celebrated as the “shakti” or the power within every woman. Kamakhya Devi surely would not be proud of the negative mindset and discriminatory behaviour that the society has towards menstruators today.

Ending Stigma and Period Poverty

At a personal level, there is a need to question these upsetting practices. What is even so secret, or even embarrassing, about a normal bodily function that half of the world’s population goes through every month for a whole week? Period needs to be normalized for the stigma to end. Silence would mean a quiet subservience to this problematic culture. When someone does not say the word “period” in a hushed tone, they challenge these disturbing societal beliefs. So instead of using code words like “shark’s week” or “code red”, let us simply call it what it is-period. When we discuss the subject of period openly, without feeling shameful or embarrassed, we take a step towards battling the period stigma.

Educate those around you about what menstruation is and what are the struggles that some menstruators face during period. We assume that boys do not need to learn about menstruation outside of biology lessons. One of the prerequisites of a period positive society is sensitization through education. Teach boys about period through a candid conversation. It is important that we are gentle in our approach since many of these males would not even know about menstruation at all. We need to teach them that period is not a gross subject and how jokes around period or period shaming can be harmful. Educate them about the struggles and mistreatment of menstruators in society while emphasizing the importance of being empathetic.

Support initiatives, policies, and organizations/NGOs that work towards ending period poverty. Organizations like ActionAid, Goonj, Myna Mahila Foundation, and individuals like Mr. Arunachalam Muruganantham are doing excellent work in making sanitary products more affordable and accessible to rural India menstruators. Donate to such organizations that work towards dignified period experience for the community. At an individual level, you can ask your domestic help and any other part-time worker if they need sanitary pads and offer to provide it for them if you can.

For period poverty to be tackled effectively, we need to understand that change at a governmental level is needed. Scotland’s move to target period poverty is the benchmark of what can be done by a government to eradicate hurdles for menstruators. Until 2017, period products were labelled as luxury goods by the Indian government’s annual budget, with about 12% tax on it. In 2018, the government removed taxes on menstrual products but they still remain unaffordable for lower-income households.

For India to become a truly inclusive society, changes are required at the grassroot level and at the top level. From popular sanitary pad advertisements showing menstrual blood as red to Zomato’s initiative of period leave for female and transgender employees, few people and orgnanisations are combating to change attitude towards menstruation and make a difference.

Let’s do our bit.

Period.

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